Ironman Chattanooga 2016

Ironman #25 didn’t quite go as planned, but it’s officially in the record books. Training going into the race went fairly well, all things considered. Thanks to Coach Jason Soria, I felt physically and mentally ready to do battle with others on the course and with myself. Those of you who race know what I mean.

The days leading up to the race went well… a lot of rest, lots of meals at Jason’s Deli, and more rest. I walked around the expo and chatted with a few fellow athletes. It was a relaxing few days. The big talk was the heat the area was experiencing; heat and humidity can be a lethal combo if you’re not used to or ready for it. So, I made sure I was staying hydrated and loading up on BASE salt.

I picked up my bike from TriBike Transport, and took it for a quick spin around the area. Jeff Delavega at Hilltop Bicycles spent a lot of time and energy making sure it was race ready, and I wanted to make sure all was still well. Of course, TBT takes good care of the bikes in transport, so everything was as it should be. I had a minor issue getting my power meter to play nice, but Jeff talked me through resetting it and getting it to read properly.

I didn’t expect to spend my Friday morning blowing up Dr. Maloy’s phone, but I did. Thankfully (as far as racing is concerned), it wasn’t for me. My older daughter hurt her knee in a volleyball game, and she was still having pain. It’s never a good feeling when your kids are hurting, but it’s even harder when you’re hundreds of miles away. I’m grateful for a great sponsor that not only takes care of me and keeps me racing healthy, but is there for my family too. I wouldn’t send them anywhere else.

Saturday, I dropped off my bike and transition bags and went back to the hotel to chill. I kept my feet up, shades drawn, AC blasting, and a movie on – perfect for a pre-race day of hibernation. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep all that well; my mind was running all over the place. I was much more nervous than usual. I went over and over my race plan – stay calm in the swim, pacing on the bike, nutrition, the run, my transitions and the order I would do things to be most efficient, plan for heat. Over and over and over.

The alarm went off at 4am – Go Time. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t. My stomach was in a knot…nerves. I gathered up my stuff and headed down to transition. I was right on time with everything just as I had planned. I hopped on the bus over to the swim start and made my way down to the water, chatting with a few guys along the way. Next thing I know, we’re in the water and the gun goes off – Boom!

The swim for me is always the biggest stressor. My goal is simple – don’t be last. We take off, and I pass a guy. Then, I see one ahead that I can chase and probably catch. That never happens! Within sight of the last buoy, I put on a little surge, and then I was out – not last! Small victory, but I’ll take it. 55:39, not great, but not awful either. Onto the bike, my favorite part.

Transition went smoothly, just like I visualized beforehand. I headed out and got settled in. Nutrition time. Just a few words of advice from 25 times on this Ironman roller coaster – have a plan B and even a plan C because you just never know what might happen on race day. Just because you train and practice with something doesn’t guarantee it’ll work on race day. Well, even though I’ve consumed gallons of Gatorade Endurance throughout my racing career and daily training, on this day, my stomach said, “No, thank you, sir. Try again.” Refusing to listen, I kept pounding the Gatorade, only to have it come right back up. So, about 90 minutes in, going back through the filing cabinet of 20 years of racing experience, I moved onto plan B. BASE salt, water, Clif Bloks. I don’t train with Clif Bloks, but they were on the course, they tasted good, they were easy to chew, and they stayed down. About an hour later, I felt my body coming back around. First crisis addressed.

Another PSA, if you’ll indulge me. Many Ironman competitors are there to finish, quite a few to race, some trying to qualify for Kona, and some (pros) to make a living. Regardless of which category you fall into, please be courteous and aware when on the course. Stay to the right when not passing (this is a rule), hold your line, and for goodness sake, please pull over at aid stations. Stopping in the middle of the road is dangerous – to the person stopped, to the cyclists not stopping and trying to ride through, and to the volunteers there. Keep a path clear – it’s safer for all involved. I saw some pretty near collisions at some of the aid stations, and I almost plowed through someone who stopped in the middle of the road, then turned 90 degrees (basically blocking a lane with his bike).

Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with my bike time – 4:51:40 – but it’s tough riding alone, not seeing anyone most of the day. Coupled with the early nutrition issues and the tough day, it was the best I could do. I felt like I paced myself pretty well and did OK with my nutrition, but I could feel the 4800 feet of climbing.

I pulled into transition, and as expected, my legs were pretty stiff. I grabbed my hat, race belt, shoes, and a little sunscreen, and off on the run I went. The first 1.5 miles is uphill. My legs were shaky, but I told myself, “Just give it time.” I took a gel and started pounding BASE salt. Finally, I found a rhythm, which I knew was not my planned race pace, but it was steady and I felt I could hold it. About 5-6 miles in, a volunteer yelled at me, “14!” I kept running, then processed what she said. I paused, looked back, and yelled, “Did you say I’m 14th? As in 1-4?”
Her: “Yes!”
Me: “14?! Really?”
Her:  “YES! Go!”

As I continued on, I thought, “What? How?” I knew I wasn’t running that well, but she was sure. Alarm bells were sounding in my head, because I actually had a chance to place well, but the legs weren’t exactly peppy. “Please run well,” I kept telling myself. So, I changed my plan a bit – push as hard as I can, but only what I can sustain. Lots of water, salt, and whatever calories I could grab at every aid station. Run hard uphill, smart downhill. My quads were totally gone, and downhill was killing me. Just keep moving forward.

Surprisingly, the miles flew by, and I felt like I had a handle on my body. I don’t recall exactly, but around 16-17, I got passed. I chased him as best I could, but I couldn’t hang on. I knew my legs were close to being totally done, and I had several miles of big hills ahead. I let him go, and I feared more were closing in. I ran pushing as hard as I could, hoping for the best, fearing the worst. About one mile later, I passed another pro who was walking. Back into 14th, but still not feeling safe. Finally, I crested the top of the last big hill. I knew that by the time I reached the bottom, I’d have about a mile left. I had two choices – ease down and be kind to the quads or set my jaw and go. Well, since I don’t back down from a challenge, I decided to go for it. After a blur of pain, I reached the bottom, glanced back and finally felt confident I’d hold my place. No one else was in sight, and I knew I could hold on for one more mile. I really felt like I was running in the clouds.

I didn’t look at my watch at all on the run. I knew it was slower than planned, and I didn’t need a constant negative reinforcement of that fact. I had no idea what my finish time would be. So, I saw the finish chute, straightened up as best I could, and cruised in at 9:26:25 (run time of 3:33:57). I’m not thrilled with the time, but I am quite happy with the 14th overall finish.I was shocked to see how many people were milling around the finish area with race bibs on. Lots of DNF’s. It was a brutal day out there, and I spent most of it alone. I was glad to be done.

From there, I made my way, slowly but surely, back to my hotel. I collapsed on the floor, forced myself to eat and drink a little, then cleaned up, and walked back down to the finish line to cheer for a while. Then… Sunday Night Football, big juicy hamburger, fries (2 orders), and beer…I think I earned it.